Merchants Welcome Bid to Develop Sparr Heights Debris Basin as Park

Times Staff Writer

Just about every proposal for development of the Sparr Heights debris basin in Montrose--calling for everything from a skateboard park to low-income housing--has died amid controversy over the last 20 years.

But now Glendale city officials have come up with an $850,000 plan that appears to make most people happy. It calls for a community park on the 12-acre site, complete with tennis courts and jogging trail.

Even local merchants who had fought previous proposals for the basin say they welcome the plan because they expect it to attract shoppers. "I think parents will let the park be a little baby sitter for the kids while they can go off and do a little shopping," said Frank M. Roberts, a gift shop owner who is president of the Montrose Park Shopping Park Assn.

The Sparr Heights debris basin is at the south end of Clifton Place, about three blocks southeast of the intersection of Honolulu Avenue and Verdugo Road. There are two temporary baseball fields there; the rest is dirt, weeds and an occasional tree. Sprinklers fight a losing battle to keep green whatever grass there is.

Terminus for Runoff

The site is labeled a debris basin because, until an underground drain system was installed about 20 years ago, it was the terminus for rainwater runoff and accompanying debris from the mountains. It also was used by Los Angeles County flood control officials as a dump for garbage found in other catch basins in nearby foothills and by some local residents as an unofficial trash heap.

The city's new plan calls for a jogging track encircling the park, two lighted tennis courts, two lighted baseball diamonds, a children's play area and some open green area. Construction would start in November and be completed by midsummer, said Henry Agonia, director of the Parks and Recreation Department.

The city of Glendale will pay about half the cost of the $850,000 project. For the rest, the city has already collected nearly $400,000 in state grants. In addition, the City Council has authorized Agonia's staff to apply for another $72,000 in state funds for work on Sparr Heights and two other recreation sites.

Agonia is confident that the grant request will be approved. "We've had a good grant record," he said.

A series of proposed projects for Sparr Heights have died after meeting strong opposition from homeowner and merchant groups.

When skateboarding was emerging as a craze in the mid-1970s, youngsters from throughout the county were riding the bus to skateboard down the Glendale hills. Two local citizens proposed that the city help build a skateboard run in the basin, but the city refused, citing neighborhood opposition and prohibitive insurance costs.

In 1979, homeowners in the area successfully fought a proposal by a private developer to use the land for about 200 federally funded low-income housing units for the elderly. Three years ago, high costs and local zoning laws defeated a proposal by the Los Angeles College of Chiropractic to build a campus there to accommodate at least 700 students.

Bud Kinne, recently retired president of the 160-member Montecito Park Homeowners Assn., whose members live near the basin, said homeowners have had various reasons for opposing past proposals. Many people, he said, did not want any more housing in the area, and others were worried that low-income housing would lead to an increase in crime.

Accustomed to Open Space

But Kinne said the overriding reason homeowners have lobbied for a park is that they have become accustomed to the open space since the "temporary" baseball fields were installed in the basin 15 years ago.

Roberts, the merchants association president, said nearly all of his group's 138 members support the park plan. One local businessman, however, has opposed it.

James J. Ryan, general manager of Calstar Motors Inc., a Volvo and Mercedes-Benz dealership on North Verdugo Road, said he rents a large lot behind his building from the city, using it to park as many as 275 cars.

The city has told Ryan that his month-to-month lease will be terminated in November so construction on the park project can begin. Ryan said he needs the parking space until about next April, when he is scheduled to move to South Brand Boulevard.

'I'm Done'

"Without that property, I'm done," he said.

Agonia said the city probably will be able to accommodate Ryan's needs.

In related actions, the Glendale City Council authorized the parks department to seek bids to improve facilities at Central and Scholl Canyon parks.

The council allocated $300,000 for rebuilding the shuffleboard and tennis courts, building new walkways and improving lighting for Central Park, at Louise and Colorado streets.

The council allocated $150,000 for repairs at Scholl Canyon Park, where many of the tees and greens on the golf course, which was built over a garbage dump, are sinking. Built at a cost of $2 million, it is the city's most expensive park.

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